With great fanfare, Sony has just introduced the Playstation Portable in the United States. This is a very impressive device with plenty of features any Palm OS or Pocket PC user would envy. But the Playstation Portable just isn’t the device most current handheld users want, and they shouldn’t waste their time thinking it is.
Before I get started, I want to emphasize that I’m not down on the PSP, as it’s usually called. It’s a device that has a lot going for it.
But, at the same time, it’s focused on a target market quite different from the one that typically buys handhelds.
Know Your Audience
The PSP is aimed at gamers, and there’s not a lot of crossover between that group and handheld users. I know there’s a few things both groups want, but the differences are more significant than the similarities.
Both groups like high-resolution screens and fast processors. However, easy text input has long been one of the most important features for any successful handheld, while gamers consider text input far, far below many other features.
This is why the PSP doesn’t have a touch screen. The only way to input anything is through its buttons or joystick, and there’s no keyboard. Entering text with a joystick is acceptable for games, but is totally inadequate for a handheld.
I don’t know how many of you have ever done text input on a Playstation. As a fairly frequent gamer, I can say that I have… and it wasn’t any fun. Scrolling through an on-screen alphabet with a joystick is tolerable for inputing three or four characters, but I think I’d rather be skinned alive than write a whole email that way.
This is going to severely limit the potential of the PSP. I’m sure there are going to be plenty of people who are going to think it’s just wonderful for games and movie playback, but almost no one is going to want to do word processing on it, or update a spreadsheet, or even write an SMS message.
Don’t Accept a Lower-Resolution Screen
And it isn’t just text input. The screen on a PSP is just 480 by 272 pixels. This is well below the 480-by-320-pixel screen on the best Palm OS models, and way, way below the 640-by-480-pixel display that many high-end Pocket PCs offer. If what you want is a portable movie player, then a Palm OS or Pocket PC device is a much better choice.
Mobile video playback appeals to a niche market, and a pretty small niche market at that. Unless you spend a lot of time staring blankly into space, like on a bus, train, or airplane, you really don’t have any need for mobile video. Please tell me you aren’t planning on watching a movie while you drive your car to work in the morning.
Plus, as I just pointed out, a Palm or Pocket PC device is generally a better way to play video than most of the dedicated video players.
If the Shoe Doesn’t Fit…
All that I’m trying to say here is that if you’re one of the few who has complained for years about the somewhat limited gaming capabilities of your Palm or Pocket PC, then you might like a PSP. However, most handheld users shouldn’t be seduced by the marketing hype around this new device.
The PSP is well suited for its target market, but the majority of handheld users are well outside this group.
Think of it this way: the Playstation 2 is a great game console. (I’m planning on spending many hours this weekend playing on one.) But it can’t take the place of a desktop computer. The same is true for the Playstation Portable and a handheld computer.
Of course, the PSP isn’t the only Mobile Gaming platform to debut lately. But I can’t say that either one of its competitors is clearly a better option.
The Gizmondo suffers from the same limitations as the PSP. No Touchscreen or keyboard means that it will never be good for anything but games.
The Nintendo DS, because one of its two displays is a touchscreen, has much more potential as a handheld replacement than the other two do. If the rumors of a Nintendo plan to come out with a suite of Palm OS-compatible personal information management (PIM) applications for this device are true, then the Nintendo DS may actually turn out to be your next handheld. But that’s a big “if.”